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Focus changes, but goal doesn't for 2003 Rams

August 24, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - What is a Shepherd College media day without considering the impact of quarterback Joel Gordon and kicker Kevin Burkey?

Over the course of four years, Gordon grew into the school record-setting passer, setting four Shepherd career marks while leading the Rams to a 31-10 record, one West Virginia Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Burkey is Shepherd's all-time kick scorer with 221 points in four years, which included 146 extra points.

Both are focal points again as Shepherd prepares for the 2003 season, but this time it's because they are no longer playing. In fact, both sat at the media luncheon table wearing coaching polo shirts instead of donning shoulder pads in the locker room. It made for some lively conversation when it came to just how coach Monte Cater and the Rams will keep themselves in contention in the WVIAC.

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"I don't know how you replace someone like Joel," Cater said during his media day address. "He rewrote a lot of records. And Burkey ... he will be tough to replace when you see what he's done."

But replacing the pair that had the most influence on the Rams' side of the scoreboard is Shepherd's daunting task. And while Cater looks for answers, the WVC's coaches and national pollsters don't seem to think it will be a problem, especially since Shepherd was named the favorite to win the league title and will open the season as the nation's No. 23-ranked team in the American Football Coaches Association preseason poll.

"Surprised isn't the word," Cater said. "It was more like shocked."

Shepherd comes in with a highly experienced defense and two strong running backs in Alex Herbert and Travis Lynch. But there were still question marks over which of four quarterback candidates will take over Gordon's starting role and who will put the best foot forward to replace Burkey.

Ironically, both Gordon and Burkey will have a hand in finding their replacements as position coaches.

"I keep asking (defensive coordinator Bob) Haley, 'You think you can get us another shutout? You think you can get us another shutout?'" Cater said. "He's getting tired of hearing it."

The scramble to find the new starting quarterback heated up in Saturday's scrimmage. It was the first time the Rams took the field in game situation.

The top two candidates are junior Tony Fenoglio and freshman Dan Chlebowski, of Greencastle, while freshman Jake Gregory and junior college transfer Ryan Runco are also in the running.

Fenoglio moved back to quarterback after spending last season as the Rams' starting tight end, while Chlebowski and Gregory took most of Shepherd's snaps during spring practice. Runco, who is the most mobile of the group, has more game experience after playing at Lackawanna.

"I can't tell you who it will be," Cater said. "I can't sleep at night this time of year. We don't have our quarterback locked in. We have a good group to put in around them. We started with six but pared it down to four and I hope to get it to three."

Some of Fenoglio's advantage comes from playing tight end last season, where he experienced the offense from a different angle.

"He has always been a quarterback until we moved him to tight end," Cater said. "Until then, he had never played with a hand on the ground. It gave him a better feel for what is going on and he knows the offense from a different angle."

On the kicking front, the Rams have many candidates to choose from. Junior college transfer Larry Wolfe and freshman Rick Schmitt are the leading candidates to either split or do both the place kicking and punting duties.

With two weeks remaining before Sept. 6 opener with Shippensburg, finding replacements are imperative is the Rams plan to match their 28 point per game average from last season.

"Points aren't going to be easy to come by. We had some four-year guys that you always expected to be there and they are gone," Cater said. "We have to move the ball because we can't expect the defense to stay out there (the whole game.)"

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